Important Lessons for Obama Hidden in Jay-Z Rap Lyrics


Originally, when I was assigned this article prompt I was tasked with finding five rap lyrics that all politicians should live by. I pored lyrics from various rap artists and found lyrics on various topics: success, failure, loyalty, sacrifice, greed, etc. After all of my "research" which included listening to hours of rap music, I concluded that the bit of advice rappers can give all politicians is: be proud of where you came from, be proud of the struggle, be loyal to your friends, be confident, and never back down — and never back down from a challenge. And rappers, unlike politicians, will go to great lengths to "keep it real" to be authentic 24/7.

But there was something hidden in the rap lyrics — the overarching relationship between rappers and politics:

Rap is anti-establishment.

Its lyrics are often protests to elitism and perceived brutality from institutions. Some of you may recall my letter to Kendrick Lamar urging him to vote. When I wrote the letter, I was amazed that a rapper with such depth would encourage people not to make decisions in their own lives. It turned out that Kendrick believes elections are controlled by some unforeseen force and the people we see in power are puppets of the people who are actually in power.

But where does this anti-establishment in hip-hop come from? As a hip-hop head and a politico, I often search for the answer.

One theory, is to think it is a race issue. Hip-hop is predominately saturated with young black males, and politics, well ... is not. But it is more than a race thing, because white rappers like Eminem, Mac Miller, and Yelawolf are usually similarly anti-establishment.

But there is one rapper who has been touting his alignment with politicians: the one and only Shawn Carter, a.k.a. Jay-Z. I have said and even written about Shawn Carter's hidden desire to run for public office. If Jay-Z has it his way, he will be a politician.

If any of you are familiar with Jay-Z's participation in President Barack Obama's campaign, you might remember his assertion that President Obama was the first politician that connected with him.

But, just like any other rapper, Jay-Z is still anti-establishment. On the remix to Kendrick Lamar's "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," Jay-Z raps:

In the White House with a mink

[lyrics courtesy of Rap Genius]

Here, Hov says he will wear a mink in the White House and sit next to Hillary Clinton smelling like grade-A marijuana and taunts that he will probably receive a presidential pardon for his actions.

I don't have a reasoning behind why rap is anti-establishment. Part of me, thinks it is the culture. The history. Hip-hop grew from the people and still loves to rub people the wrong way. Ice-T, N.W.A., Jay-Z, Nas, and every other rapper you may think of has all thrown rocks at politics. Rappers do not like or trust politics or politicians or anyone who makes a living reporting on policy (by the way, hasn't every rapper had a run-in with a Bill O'Reilly). The most blatant slight are rappers who celebrate the Taliban.

I can only guess to the reasons. What do you think?